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Artist creates stunning insects from old watch parts

Justin Gershenson-Gates makes incredibly complex mechanical bugs out of components found in decades-old timepieces. Crave checks in with the artist and his creepy-crawlies.

Creeeeepy crawlers!
Justin Gershenson-Gates

Despite my small fear of bugs, there's just something creepily cute about these mechanical insects by Justin Gershenson-Gates.

Gates, a self-taught tinkerer, usually sells jewelry accented with watch gears on his Web site A Mechanical Mind, but people can't seem to get enough of his occasional arthropods made from watch parts, tiny lightbulbs, and other bits and bobs.

In an e-mail interview with Crave, Gates revealed the inspiration behind these creepy designs: a recent trip featuring a freak spider encounter -- "with a leg span of about 3 inches," he says -- prompted the idea. After returning from vacation, Gates created a set of spider legs with watch-winding stems and tacked on other watch parts to create his first spider.

The most beautiful scorpion in the world? Justin Gershenson-Gates

After creating several eight-leggers and selling them, Gates tried his hand at mantises, scorpions, and butterflies, with each design slightly different than the last. Check out the A Mechanical Mind Facebook album page for more pictures of these exotic crawlers.

Naturally, creating these fragile wonders takes an extraordinary amount of patience and many hours of work. Most of his creations, which sell for $300 or more, can take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours to make. "Part of my idea for the style of art that I do is based on environmental consciousness," Gates says. "Even though my pieces are very small, I want to reuse as much as possible, and people generally just throw away their old watches. The parts I use are generally from watches from the 1880s through 1950s, as they are of better quality than those made more recently. Half my time is spent looking for parts."

Creating a watch creature requires much more than just searching for components, however. For example, the mechanical spider above might take about 3 hours to create, but even that item could require Gates to individually solder 52 joints together. Scorpions can consume almost 12 hours of time from start to finish -- all completed in a single session. "I can never leave a piece unfinished, so I am cutting, shaping, sanding, and soldering until they are completed," Gates says.

"I had always been somewhat of a sculptor before making jewelry, so these creations were closer to home for me than the jewelry. Rather than being art for jewelry's sake, it was art for art's sake," Gates adds. The tinkerer told Crave he takes requests -- despite a current backlog -- and might experiment with making bats next.

Handle with care. Justin Gershenson-Gates